Bangsawan is a type of traditional Malay opera (or theatre) performed by a troupe and accompanied by music and dance. The art form is indigenous in various parts of Southeast Asia, specifically the Malay Peninsula, Riau Islands, Sumatra, and coastal Borneo. It came into Singapore in 1879 from Bombay (British rule India) to provide entertainment for the Indians (mostly Tamils) who worked in the plantations and recruits for the British army.
This academic collaboration involved more than 30 English and Mandarin Drama students from Theatre Programme, and a group of principals from Era Dance Theatre. The two-hour programme was part of the course module ‘Southeast Asian Performing Arts’ for third year students. The workshop consisted of an introduction to the history and context of the art form, followed by demonstrations of a Bangsawan excerpt in Malay and English, respectively. As part of a breakout segment in the programme, the students learned to put their thoughts to improvise a typical Bangsawan acting scene, using stock characters, theatrical conventions, and dialogues in rhymes and prose. The creative versatility of the Bangsawan performance enhanced the students’ ability to offer an all-rounded and lively experience.